Q&A With Jinja Safari’s Pepa Knight

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INTERVIEW Sarah Basford

Sarah Basford had a chat with Pepa Knight from local band Jinja Safari in the lead up to their much-anticipated set at Conception Day.

Hey Pepa, I saw you guys at the Coaster Festival back in 2010 and the live set was so energetic and refreshing. Since then, you’ve released another EP and a debut album, how has this rise to fame influenced the band?

I don’t think that any of us feel like we’ve risen to fame just yet but that show at Coaster was actually a cool one because I’m actually from the coast. That’s the only show we’ve ever played locally, but every shows gotten bigger and bigger in Australia and it’s been because of the support of great radio stations and our fans and everything so it’s been a nice sort of progress. But I don’t think any of us feel super famous.

So it hasn’t influenced the band in any way?

Not really, but maybe it just made us want to be better at playing our instruments. Last year we got to travel overseas a lot with the band. We went to four overseas tours and that was really special for us because we’ve never toured overseas in our lives and it was a great experience and I guess we felt a little bit special then. At the same time, we were playing dingy little venues to ten to twelve people at a time. They were all really fun though, we discovered that you don’t need to have a lot of people to have a good time at a show.

What kind of impact has your online presence had on your band’s popularity or vice versa? Facebook, YouTube?

I think it’s really important and a lot of other bands pay someone to do that for them and have an online presence but it’s something we’ve been sort of slack with at times but we’ve been getting better lately, posting a lot of videos and silly photos. It’s a great way to have a connection with people who like the music. There’s been times where someone missed out on a ticket and they messaged us over Facebook and I was able to put them on the door or just do fun things like that. It’s like a cool, new interaction that you never used to have between a band and audience.

Given the tumultuous nature of the online world, is there a downside to utilising the web with torrenting and piracy being an issue?

Yeah I guess for us we’ve never really experienced it any other way because we’re relatively new I guess, but it does affect sales. I always hear “record labels are going down” because no one wants to buy real CDs anymore and piracy is just so easy for a lot of people. They’ve got things like Spotify, which is unreal. These days there seems to be more live performances and things like on television that give you the money to keep on going.

Have you had any run-ins with companies selling fake likes on Facebook and YouTube views?

Oh, right, we haven’t done that. I haven’t really known anyone who’s doing that. I’m sure there are people who do that sort of thing but yeah, it’s a pretty cheeky way of going about it.

[quote] We did a lot of travelling last year to get some more inspiration for the album… instead of being a bunch of white ratbags trying to write songs that are a bit more afro-pop I guess.[/quote]

Your band is often labelled as “forest rock” or “jungle pop”, what influences whether musical or otherwise, have led you to forming this sound? What do you think sets you apart from other alternative bands?

Well, to answer the first question, the forest pop thing was something we never came up with but I guess everyone needs to put a genre to music- but we did our first show in a forest so it does make sense to call it that. We have been very influenced by world music which is a start; you know that’s a passionate thing that we’ve wanted to include in our music so I guess that is where it comes from. We did a lot of travelling last year to get some more inspiration for the album and record our samples to make the songs more authentic instead of being a bunch of white ratbags trying to write songs that are a bit more afro-pop I guess.

Your music videos are quite varied, I was just watching “Dozer” the other day and it was quite eccentric when compared to the video for “Plagiarist”; what kind of input or influence do you have, with creative control over your music videos?

For the “Dozer” clip, we had a few people come to us with a few different ideas that we could do for that clip and that was the first one we haven’t been involved in which has been a nice thing. All of a sudden they just send the finished clip and you’re like “Oh, great”. For that one, we really liked the concept and we thought it worked perfectly and so we gave them the thumbs up and they sent us the finished product and we were like “Thanks, that’s good”. Something like the “Plagiarist” one, that took two full days trying to rehearse the one shot and we were all on bikes. We had bike stuntmen doing tricks everywhere and it was really hard to get that one take so it was refreshing to have the Dozer clip.

The new tour we are doing at the moment is very much influenced by that sort of feel, the more hypnotising, cultish sort of feel [in the video clip for “Dozer”] so we’re trying to have a bit more of an experience than our usual shows. We’ve actually gotten in trouble a few times because our shows get a bit out of hand, you know, climbing on the wrong lighting rigs and inviting too many people up on stage and things get broken and stolen. This upcoming tour is a change in that we’re trying to give a bit more of an experience of the escapism concept that’s on the new album and everything.

Your debut album was written in at least three vastly different countries, what kind of influence did they have on your established “jungle” sound?

Yeah, Marcus [Jinja Safari’s singer] went to Africa and I went to India and we went to both places at the same time and recorded down our ideas and got really inspired by each place whether it was the way they lived or from the musicians we got to play with that had sounds and rhythms we had never heard of. It was really cool going to these places and recording down samples and adding them to the album so it was a really way to get inspired but also to claim it on the tax as well.

How do you usually write and compose your songs? Do you write when you’re jamming together or individually?

All of our songs so far have been written over email, so Marcus might have an idea and send it over to me or I might come up with an idea and send it to him and it kind of evolves over email. Some of the songs we got to jam together like in hotels or on plane trips or tours or even in our studio but the majority of it has been sort of mashed together separately. Sort of just our creative vomit squished together and then you’ve got the album.

There are a lot of layers and dynamics on the latest album; how does it cross over to the live performance?

Well that’s been one of the challenges. I guess, since the start we’ve always had a lot of layers and that’s just my fault for getting too excited about what I could do to a track and I seem to go a bit overboard but I’m a maximalist, not a minimalist. It seems to be a challenge when we take it to the band at times but that’s the good thing about having five guys in the band and two drummers and Alistair [percussionist/drummer] who can work with a lot of different sounds from his SPD-S [sampling percussion pad] and we also have a laptop set up at the back so we can get some of these layers into the live performance. Some of them, I’ve just had to cut down for the tour.

So you go for a more raw sound rather than trying to recreate it completely?

In a way, we sort of have to. It’s a cool thing though because it brings the songs alive and you know, it’s a good little challenge to try and learn these parts that we’ve written over MIDI on an aeroplane. Like a lot of the bass parts were just written in Pro Tools and our bass player, Joe has had to learn all those parts on a real bass so it becomes a bit of a challenge in that way. We’ve been rehearsing a lot for this tour and we’re all pretty excited about it and we’ve actually got these visual artists from Sydney who are helping put together a projection show as well, so it’s been pretty cool. I feel like for this tour there’s been a lot more involved.

I’ve actually lost my keytar [keyboard/guitar], I usually play with a keytar live for maybe one or two songs but I seem to have lost it so I’ve decided that I’m going to make new one from home out of recycled things from the backyard and use it on this tour.

[quote]Write music that you’re passionate about. I was in a band for a long time trying to make it big and write… songs that other people would like. I wanted to write music that I liked[/quote]

Do you have advice for any upcoming bands?

The best thing to do would be to write music that you’re passionate about. I was in a band for a long time trying to make it big and write, I guess, songs that other people would like but then I gave up. I wanted to write music that I liked and that’s when Jinja took off but maybe that was by chance, I think we got really lucky. I think the most important thing is to have fun in what you do and try to make it turn into a business for as long as possible.

It’s been confirmed that you’ll be playing Conception Day in October. What are you looking forward most to at Conception Day?

I’m very excited to play Conception Day; I’ve heard some great things about it. I’m excited to go there because we haven’t really gone there and played any shows there so that’ll be cool. I don’t think there’s anything I’m not looking forward to!

What can we expect from the live show? Any secrets you can let us in on?

I might be able to tell you this or I might not be able to tell you this but I’ll tell you anyway, we’ve been getting a good response from an R. Kelly song we covered called “Ignition” and people have asked us a few time to play it and we’ve always refused until now, we’ve decided we’re going to try and fit it into this new set so we’ll how we go with that one. It’s a hard one because when we did that performance, the sitar was tuned to another key so we’re keen to give that a try and I guess, we want people to have a bit of an experience when they come to this tour. I’m just excited about [it] because there’s a lot of new things we’re doing and it’s the biggest Australian tour that we’ve ever done in our short career so it’s going to be exciting to see some different places.

Quick questionnaire:

Favourite place in the world and why?

It would have to be home. It was beautiful going to all those places, especially last year when we were touring overseas and I absolutely love India but there’s something about being at home. I live on the coast, which is 2 hours north of Sydney and it’s four blocks away from the beach and I have my mums café around the corner so it’s very easy.

Your favourite album?

Wow, that’s a really hard question but I’d have to say Peter Gabriel’s Us. I don’t know, it’s an album I can always go back to.

Best show you’ve ever played?

Best show we’ve ever played, for me, it keeps changing but I remember we played a show in British Colombia in Canada and it was in this old church building and everyone was sort of sitting down in their seats and it was very intimidating when we first started and then all of sudden, everyone started getting of their seats and security were telling them to sit down but they were rebelling and there was a couple making love on the second level of the church. It was everything you wouldn’t expect in a normal church service. It was a part of a festival over there and it was such a cool venue, but it was just one of those moments where everyone was just very happy and excited and on the same page and we had a lot of fun at that gig. It’s nice going overseas and for that sort of response to happen was pretty special for us.

Thanks for letting us interview you!